Dealing with Jealousy: Friendships with the Opposite Sex

Dealing with Jealousy: Friendships with the Opposite Sex

Here’s an interesting question that one of the subscribers to this newsletter asked us recently…

This is one of the biggest challenges that many couples face and can the lines get fuzzy really quick on this one! Are friendships with people of the opposite sex appropriate if you are in a committed relationship?

Here are a few of our thoughts about this question…

Whether it’s a friendship with a co-worker, an ex-spouse, ex-lover, or even the woman or man at the gym or club–jealousy can rear its ugly head and threaten to destroy an otherwise “good” relationship when a friendship is felt to be inappropriate by one of the partners.

So, are friendships with people of the opposite sex appropriate while you are in a committed relationship or should you just say “no” and not even go there?

We’ll answer this question with a big– It depends!

It depends on two factors:

1. On the intentions of the two people who are creating the male/female friendship, and

2. On the spoken and unspoken agreements and commitments of the couple.

Let’s talk about intentions– We all have intentions, either conscious or unconscious, for everything we do and every relationship we are in.

When considering relationships with people of the opposite sex outside of a primary committed relationship, the questions to ask yourself are “What is my intention for this relationship?” and “What do I want from this relationship?”

Sometimes the answers to these questions can be difficult if we haven’t thought about them much (or at all).

What we have discovered is that whether we realize it or not, we ALWAYS want something or have either a conscious or unconscious intention for everything we do and this includes every relationship we get into.

Sometimes we get into relationships with people and don’t realize until some challenges surface in our primary committed relationship that this “friend” is fulfilling a want, need or desire that isn’t being filled in a primary relationship.

Please understand that we’re not saying that every want, need, and desire has to be fulfilled by your partner in a committed relationship.

What we are saying is to make sure that you are consciously aware of your intentions for your friendships and that these intentions are in alignment with your agreements and commitments to your partner.

We not only suggest that you be very clear about your own intentions for the friendship but also be aware of the intentions of your friend.

We frequently hear from people who are in a committed relationship and are jealous of a partner because they perceive that their partner’s friend, co-worker or ex-lover is “coming onto” them and wants more from the relationship with their partner than they are comfortable with.

When this situation happens, the fear is that the person’s partner will succumb to the allure of the other woman or man.

Whether this is actually fact or fiction, the point is to not bury your head in the sand and pretend that you aren’t aware of the other person’s intention.

If you look closely enough, you can usually figure out what that intention is and deal with it in a way that is best for all.

It’s also good to examine your intentions for your same-sex friendships. If your unspoken or spoken intention is to spend time away from home and away from your primary partner with someone else, take a look at what you are doing and the possible consequences of those actions.

Do a reality check and look at it as a wake-up call for your primary relationship.

How about agreements and commitments? Make sure that you are aware of what your spoken and unspoken agreements and commitments are around this topic of male/female friendships outside of your primary relationship.

This is usually not something that couples talk about until one or both have formed unhealthy friendships that threaten the primary relationship. We are urging you to talk about what each of your expectations are in this area and make your agreements and commitments in advance.

We like the term having friendships “within healthy limits and boundaries.” What this means to each person may differ and the challenge for each couple is to come to an agreement about what healthy limits and boundaries are for their relationships with other people.

We’ve found that if couples get bogged down in trying to come to an agreement about the definition of healthy limits and boundaries, if they begin listening to each other’s wants and desires and honoring what’s important to the other person, they are able to more easily come together on their ideas.

The point is to be very clear about how you want your relationship to be and how you want to be in your relationship. Ask yourself “Are my actions appropriate based on our agreements about how we want our relationship to be?”

One woman, who give us permission to use her story in our “No More Jealousy” book, told us that she had had a huge jealousy problem with every man she was ever with before her current husband. She said that one of the big differences in this relationship and previous ones is that she knows her husband is truly committed to her.

When she visits his office, her husband’s co-workers tell her that she is just as beautiful as he says she is. For her, jealousy is a non-issue in the face of that kind affirmation.

It’s not clear whether her husband is friends with his co-workers or not but what is clear is that he adores his wife, lets everyone know it and his intention in his committed relationship is very clear.

Whether friendships with the opposite sex are a problem in your relationship or not, take this opportunity to ask yourself these questions that may help to strengthen your relationship–

1. How do you honor your partner when you aren’t in their presence, no matter who you are with?

2. How are you nurturing your committed relationship? One final thing– Are we suggesting that it’s not OK to be in a friendship with someone of the opposite sex if you are in a committed relationship? Certainly not. We both have “friends” of the opposite sex and our relationship is stronger, more vibrant and more alive than ever.

We think friendships with all kinds of people are expanding and necessary to our personal growth and can also make our lives much more rewarding. We also think that these friendships can co-exist and thrive within the healthy limits and boundaries of our relationship.
Get our free  7 Jealousy-Stopping Secrets at to help you overcoming jealousy and create a close and trusting relationship.

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  1. Ok, fair enough. But, what if your significant other is friends with someone of the opposite sex and they very obviously have intentions toward your partner, but tell him they only want to be friends, and your partner believes them? Meanwhile she (the friend), is married and has been maintaining a secret friendship with my partner for the last 12 years, and at one point she suggested an affair with him? She still seeks his attention, calls his house weekly when her husband is out, and has not accepted our 2 year old relationship.
    I’m finding it difficult, if not impossible, to accept their friendship without feeling betrayed since she makes no effort to get to know me, and does not want him to share any of their conversations with me. She wants him to keep their friendship a secret like she does in her relationship with her husband. The resentment I feel toward him for not taking a very strong stance in this dynamic may lead to the demise of an otherwise wonderful relationship.

    • mary: You have described some observable and reliable information here which is key. This is the kind of thing we advise coaching clients and readers to be aware of. You’re going to have a losing battle and push your partner away from you if you focus in on what you think his friend’s motivations are or what you think she thinks about him or you. Instead, lay out the facts as you observe and know them.

      If she has insisted that they keep their friendship a secret, these are actual words that she said and that can be verified. Her phone calls to your partner are another *possible* fact to include (though frequency and timing is important to notice). The more you can hone in on the observable stuff and not your guesses (no matter how certain you are of them), the better. Create agreements with your partner instead of getting angry with him for not setting boundaries with his friend. Make sure these are agreements are not your demands, by the way.

      Ultimately, you get to decide if you are willing to work with him on this and you can ask him whether or not he is willing to work with you on this issue as well. The more you can find resolution and let go of your resentment the better off your relationship will be.

      Best Wishes,
      Susie and Otto

  2. I agree with the sentiments of this article completely. I love your articles. They’re so insightful. What do I do in my situation? I’ve been dating my boyfriend for over a year, and he works with his ex wife. They were together for 8 years (married for 4), and divorced a little over a year.
    He insists on keeping a friendship with her that is more than just business related (they exchange friendly messages, texts, he takes her out for lunch here and there, on her birthday he took her out to a romantic french restaurant for lunch without telling me). I would be ok with them being friends (i understand that 8 years is a long time), but he refuses to introduce me to her and hides his interactions with her from me. (ex/I found out about him taking her out for lunch because I looked at his email.)
    He’s a wonderful boyfriend otherwise, and we live together and spend a lot of time together so I don’t think he’s cheating on me, but I’m uncomfortable with their relationship and I just can’t shake it. I think even if I were able to be introduced to her by him i’d feel a little better, but he absolutely refuses to compromise when it comes to her at all. He even gets angry when I try to talk to him about it so I don’t even know how we’d come to any agreements that work for us both. 🙁 What should I do? I feel like if I ignore how I feel I’m just going to get resentful.

    • Jenny: Thanks for your post. From what you write, it’s smart for you NOT to ignore how you feel. The fact that your boyfriend maintains a friendship with his ex isn’t necessarily a warning sign, but his repeated secretiveness about it is. We recommend that you review the facts you know and make sure there isn’t more to their friendship than what you’ve discovered. It’s important for you to also tell him that: 1) You are okay with him continuing the friendship with his ex as long as you honestly are AND 2) You would like him to agree to be open and honest about his interactions with her. If there are specific interactions you are uncomfortable with (like them going alone to a romantic restaurant), ask him to agree not to do that. This is an opportunity for the two of you to come to some agreements about what will keep trust strong and healthy in your relationship and also what will keep you two connected and close. Steer clear of blame or accusations, but do be honest and ask him to create some agreements with you. Then watch his actions to see if they are being kept.

      We’ve got an article about how to create conscious agreements here:

      Best Wishes,
      Susie and Otto

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